This is Grandma Joy. I love this photo of her!
Like most families, we have a ton of old photographs. Mama wanted our stories saved, but she didn’t want to write them down herself and decided the writing part was my responsibility. Our visits to the past were full of coffee, laughter, tears, and adventure.
The only shared regret we had was that we hadn’t asked more questions before the people we love and whose stories fascinated were gone.
In my lineage is a gangster’s moll (girlfriend), an aunt who ran a house of prostitution and read tea leaves as well as her Ouija board with accuracy aided by her occult beliefs, a great grandmother who in her twenties raised her three stepchildren and gave birth to three of her own – while living in a sod house on the prairie, two great uncles who ran booze to Chicago during prohibition, a grandmother who had a visit from John Dillinger, and a grandfather who was rescued by two angels.
There were also railroad men, an uncle who knew Hank Williams, Sr., grandparents who knew and loved God, and some brave men who served their country in World War II. There’s even a legend that we have royalty in our past. While pregnant with me, my parents witnessed the killing of a cop killer. What was at first only a headline on an old newspaper clipping became personal.
I’m one person with no fame or fortune to my name, and these adventurous people aren’t famous either. But their stories matter to my family and me. Your stories matter to someone too.
My family stories connect me to a long-gone past, entertain me, and when I take the time to consider the lessons woven into each one, I grow.
One thing that fascinates me when I write what I know from the Legacies of others in my family is the way we are drastically different and surprisingly similar.
I’ve never lived in a sod house, had Sioux hunting parties stare at my twin sons and me, or run a saloon in the prairie with a pearl-handled pistol within reach. However, like my great-grandmother, I love flowers, animals, pretty dishes, family, and God. My face is starting to wrinkle into the deep lines hers wore, which is part of our Nordic heritage.
Looking at pictures of my beautiful mother, one glamorous great-aunt, my always dressed just right Grandma Joy, and my great-grandmother’s beaded hairnets, I wonder if my attraction to clothing or accessories adorned with small beads on them are part of her Legacy to me. I don’t know and can only ponder the possibilities. Maybe it wasn’t just a girl thing, and I hope it is an us thing.
At the end of Daddy’s life, he shared a few stories. He was an incredibly private person and telling us about himself wasn’t easy. But I learned he started working when he was two years old because he was closer to the ground and could toss the potatoes his mom forked out of the earth, about the death of his best friend when they were in the first grade, and the fire that destroyed their home. There were good moments too like when he bought his first car and met Mama.
I’m grateful for every story and hope to record them all in the coming months on a private blog I’ve created for our family.
Here are some questions you may want to consider: (answer these first based on what you know and then with your wonderings)
- What have you heard about this person?
- What do you wish you knew about him or her?
- Based on what you know, what touches you the most about this person?
- Where do you and this person differ? Where are you similar?
- What do others remember most about him or her?
- Is there something about this person that makes you uncomfortable? What and why?
- If you knew this person and they are gone, what do you miss most about them?
Their Stories Matter!